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Photo: Dr. Robert Polomski

If you have a stream or moist area on your property that you want to landscape with a natural look, try a pawpaw tree. Pawpaw is ideal for spots where the tree can be left on its own.

This 15- to 20-foot multistemmed understory tree typically occurs in deep, fertile, river-bottom land.  The leaves are the food source for the zebra swallowtail butterfly. In late summer the three- to six inch-long, fragrant, oblong fruits are attractive to folks who enjoy growing their own fruit at home.

Admittedly, pawpaws are an acquired taste.  Beneath the skin is a creamy pulp that ranges from white to yellow and orange and can be scooped out with a spoon. The fruits have two rows of large, shiny, dark, beanlike seeds, but these can easily be removed or spit out.  The flavor is rich and tropical, similar to banana-strawberry custard.

The best-tasting fruits are produced by named varieties that have been grafted onto seedling rootstock, such as PA Golden, Wabash, Shenandoah, Potomac, and Sunflower.  Because pawpaws must be cross-pollinated to set fruit, it’s important that you plant two unrelated selections.

Even without fruit, the long dark green tropical-looking leaves of pawpaw can be enjoyed during the growing season and as they turn from yellow to brown in the fall.